Employees in Minnesota received a big boost, and employers a setback, at the end of the 2013 MN legislative session. The legislature expanded the state’s 26-year-old whistleblower law. This new measure, which went into effect in late May, strengthens the rights of employees against retaliation including discharge by employers for engaging in whistleblowing activities and making complaints to management about illegal or improper practices in the workplace.
The new feature of the law, Minn. Stat. 181.932 includes the following:
- Concerns about improprieties may be reported orally, in writing, or electronically;
- Employees are protected against reprisal if they raise concerns about past, present, or “planned” future violation;
- The concerns may include violation of statutes, government regulations, a “common law” such as breach of contracts or torts;
- Employees are covered by the law if they raise concerns in “good faith” meaning without knowing falsity or reckless disregard of the truth
- Employers may not take any adverse actions against an employee that might “dissuade a reasonable person making or supporting a report” by a whistleblower;
- Employers also are prohibited from post-employment reprisal, such as giving a bad reference or refusing to give any reference at all or filing criminal or licensing charges;
- State government employees are protected from reprisal for communicating concerns to elected officials.
These provisions are likely to facilitate whistleblower claims by employees who may seek compensatory damages, recovery for emotional distress, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees and costs.
Employers retain some defenses against whistleblowers such as:
- Showing there is no casual connection between the whistleblowing and any subsequent disciplinary action;
- Taking action because of poor work performance by the employee;
- Other legitimate business decisions, including reduction of expenses.
But the new law should make employers in Minnesota wary of taking retaliating action against employees who are now armed with stronger whistleblower rights.